CFP: MANCEPT Workshop: The Hidden Terms of the Racial Contract - Exploring the Fine Print

Submission deadline: June 2, 2023

Conference date(s):
September 11, 2023 - September 13, 2023

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Conference Venue:

University of Manchester
Manchester, United Kingdom

Topic areas


MANCEPT Workshop - The Hidden Terms of the Racial Contract: Exploring the Fine Print


Andreas-Johann Sorger, The London School of Economics and Political Science

Tom Bailey, The London School of Economics and Political Science

Call for Abstracts:

The domination contract is the consistent theme running through Charles W. Mills’ writings. Exemplified by the racial contract itself, the domination contract is a device that tracks how the ideal language of the contract has been realised in the world: As a vehicle to legitimise and perpetuate oppressive practices like colonialism. In its liberal guise, the racial contract highlights the poverty of ideal theory, showing how it marginalises questions of racial justice and forecloses an examination of reparative measures to rectify a history of racial oppression. Yet as Mills was no doubt aware, articulating a nuanced account of racial domination using the terms of mainstream political philosophy always carried the risk that the more conceptually familiar aspects of his work would receive the most engagement. That his critique of ideal theory constitutes Mills’ enduring legacy in analytic theory reflects its power, but also the more limited engagement by the mainstream with the fine print of the racial contract.

This workshop aims to illuminate the further challenges Mills poses to mainstream analytic philosophy. The racial contract is far-reaching; its terms encompass not only political institutions and social relations, but also epistemological, metaphysical, and historical concerns. The point of the racial contract is to introduce ‘race’ as a “critical theoretical term that must be incorporated into the vocabulary of an adequate sociopolitical theory” (Mills 1997, 126). For Mills, race is a constructed entity that is fundamentally shaped by power – as he puts it: “Whiteness is not really a colour at all, but a set of power relations” (Mills 1997, 127). The racial contract not only structures social relations, but also articulates how the parties to the contract (i.e. whites) understand the world around them. It regulates who counts as a knower and the kinds of claims they can make, exposing the interplay between power and knowledge that exists within political theory. By revealing the historical legacy of the racial contract, Mills explores the subtleties of the domination contract, including through examining the interactions between the racial, sexual, class, and settler contracts.

This workshop invites discussion of all aspects of Mills’ work, with a special emphasis on the underexplored dimensions of the racial contract. These may address any of the many topics of The Racial Contract itself; the application of the idea of the racial contract to the interpretation of the history of political thought; or the articulation of the domination contract in other works by Mills or in the work of others, such as Mills’ inspiration Carole Pateman. The questions we hope to explore include, but are not limited to:

  • Can the racial contract help us understand analytic philosophy’s resistance to questions of race and racism? 
  • Does a broader conception of the racial contract better track the global dimensions of racial domination? 
  • How do the relationships between the racial, settler, and sexual contracts uncover the intersectional nature of racial domination? 
  • What is the status of the domination contract in political theory today?

This will be an in-person read-ahead workshop, where the aim is to provide a forum to discuss full papers of up to 8,000 words. Each speaker will be given a 55-minute slot, split between a 20-25 minute presentation and a 30-35 minute Q&A.

We invite applications from academics at any career stage, including but not limited to graduate students, post-doctoral fellows, and any early-career researchers. To submit a paper, please submit a 500 word abstract to Andreas Sorger (a.j.[email protected]) and Tom Bailey ([email protected]) by 11:59pm BST on Tuesday 23 May. We aim to notify successful applicants by early June. Successful applicants are then expected to submit their full paper by late August (final dates TBD).

Conference fees to attend the in-person workshop are £130 for graduate students and £230 for academics. There is also an optional conference dinner for attendees, which costs an additional £30. MANCEPT has made a small number of fee-waiver bursaries available to graduate students presenting at the workshops. The deadline to apply for these bursaries is 27th June. Please specify in your submission if you would like to apply for a bursary.

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